Saturday, September 10, 2005

Reliable: More than a liquor store

OK, I should not have been so quick to post on Reliable Grocery. Since posting this, I've received numerous emails from various lists arguing for and against the Reliable move.

This morning, I stopped into the store to see what all the hoopla was about.
Liquor -- Yes
Porn -- No (despite what has been written on several postings)

The woman who owned the store was the friendliest merchant I've met in Bernal. She raised her three kids in the neighborhood. She's active in the church. She's part of and cares about the neighborhood.

It's a complicated issue. We don't need another liquor store on Cortland. However, we do need good, engaged merchants who are invested in ensuring that Bernal continues to be a great place to live.

I encourage anyone interested in this issue to stop in, introduce, and shhare your concerns with the folks behind the counter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've lived in San Francisco since 1971; my wife was born here. We've lived on Bonview Street since 1992, and patronized Reliable frequently since then. During a year or so when I worked from home, I visited Reliable probably at least once daily. Now I work in South City and get to see Joe and his family and staff less frequently, but I still drop in as often as I can.

I strongly support Joe's attempt to move his business, including the liquor permit, to the Cotton Basics location. Joe, IMHO, is the kind of merchant and neighbor Bernal needs. I've watched his kids grow up in his store under his and his wife's close tutelage; all parents could learn something from his careful parenting, and all kids could benefit from working in an environment where they learn hard work, courtesy, dealing with the public, and other essential people-to-people skills.

When was the last time that you had a conversation with someone about Hezbollah and Syria and the effects they have on the people of, say, Lebanon? I had that conversation recently with one of Joe's employees, who is from Lebanon and who shared with me his experiences in that country, as well as what it's like to move to the United States. San Franciscans talk a lot about being multi-cultural and politically aware; interacting with Reliable is one of the ways I and others are able to actually put those ideals into practice.

I learned today in the Chronicle that Joe and his family are active supporters of the neighborhood; this doesn't surprise me, although the man is too humble to broadcast this fact to everyone who comes into his store.

The claims about pornography, by the way, are ludicrous. I've never seen any of the skin mags (Hustler et al.) in Reliable that are so common in other corner stores. As far as serving alcohol to minors, I've watched Joe and his staff card people all the time for both liquor and tobacco, and am confident that any breaches of the law have been extremely rare and unintentional. For that matter, I'd bet that the clerks at the Good Life, who are more laissez-faire in general and are more likely to come and go than the more seasoned staff at Reliable, are much more likely to sell beer or wine to an underage customer than are the employees of Reliable.

I sincerely hope that Joe is allowed to move his business to the proposed location. Bernal needs more committed, hard-working, stable, friendly, family-oriented businesses like Reliable Grocery, not fewer.

Bill Yard
Bonview Street

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Ben Calvin said...

Everyone see today's Chron article on our local controversy?

Battling over move of grocery
Reliable facing snag in leasing new location

Assuming the move of Reliable is approved, should the focus be on whether a new liquor store permit is allowed for the old RG space?

9:40 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I too saw today's Chron article and was very alarmed to think that some neighbors are making trouble for the good folks that run Reliable.

I've lived in the neighborhood, 3 blocks away from Reliable, for the past 16 years. I've never had any problem with their shop. On the contrary, they really are about the nicest, most neighborly merchants on the block -- and that's saying something in Bernal. My kids love their store and have always been treated well there. It was the first store I would let my kids walk to by themselves, that's how much I trust them.

Back in the day I could have seen neighbors protesting liquor sales on Cortland. Local businesses were few and far between. There was blatant drug dealing all along Cortland, especially next to Skip's and down around Ellsworth. Seems like I've seen that returning on a much smaller scale recently. But there was never any problem near Reliable. I'm sure it was because they kept and eye out and didn't tolerate it.

It's not like Cortland has any serious problems with public drunkenness. Mission street, yes, but I never see any problems related to local liquor stores.

After reading the article I was all ready to visit this blog and get mightily upset. But I am glad to see that you've gone and talked with the owners. I'm glad that you can see for yourself that they are decent, good neighbors.

And I'm glad to learn about the blog and the other good work you've done bringing attention to the cross walk striping. I don't appreciate any attempt to bring more street cleaning to the hood. We Winfield residents have successfully defeated previous attempts to introduce parking controls, and I hope we would be able to fend off any new attempts. But that's a discussion for another day on another post. For now I'm encouraged that your opposition to Reliable is tempered and possibly reconsidered. I'm sad for them that they have to move.

5:07 PM  
Blogger JG said...

Here's my email response to Ms. Jones today- I am sick about this unfriendly opportunistic behavior in our otherwise wonderful and caring community. Mr Massis and his family are interesting, fine, hardworking friendly people:

Subject: Reliable Grocery
Date: September 16, 2005 6:23:21 PM PDT

I am an active, loyal and conscientious member of the Bernal Heights community, a neighborhood I have lived in for the past 13 years.
I can't claim to be an expert on the facts which you supplied in your recent article "Moving from a Reliable Spot" -SF Chronicle, 9-16-05, but I think you may have left out a very important piece of information.

You mention that there is a neighborhood outcry about the fact that we don't need another liquor license on Cortland Avenue. What you failed to mention, though you may not have known it, is that the seemingly innocent and compassionate landlords who regrettably are refusing to renew Mr. Massis' lease, so that they can take up where they left off 15 years ago, due to a physical injury sustained by Mr. Lama, have applied to San Francisco County Alcoholic Beverage Control to petition for the right to "import" a liquor license which they own from another property in the city to the 249 Cortland Avenue address. Isn;t that an additional license on Cortland? And isn't that a little bit hypocritical?

There are even some rumors circulating that the opposition to Mr. Massis' business relocating to the heart of the central business thoroughfare of Bernal Heights, Cortland Avenue between Wool and Andover, was indeed inspired by the Lama Family.

I have known Mr. Massis, his wife, his children and his assorted nephews who have worked at Reliable, since I moved here from New York in 1992.
In my first home, on Eugenia Ave. and Coleridge, Mr. Massis' shop was "my" corner store. In 1995, I moved to the other side of the hill, close to Cortland and Folsom. Despite the fact that I am much closer to Pay Little and JC Superette, which I frequent regularly, I still make visits to Reliable, because I like that family and I want to make sure to continue to support that local business,

I find it very interesting and unfortunately, not unusual, that absentee families who have owned property in Bernal Heights for the past 30-40 years have all of a sudden been hit with a wave of nostalgia for the "old neighborhood". As far as I'm concerned, The Lama Family, like many old school property owners, are just being greedy opportunists. Now that Bernal is so pricey and fashionable, and we wait patiently at the intersections which dot Eugenia from Mission to Prentiss Streets, to give the right of way to Lexus' and Infiniti SUV's, and we suffer silently while hi-tone European strollers turn the garden at Progressive Grounds into a upscale baby parking lot, the long lost property owners are feeling like they have to be a part of this community. Where have they been hiding out all this time?

Mr. Massis did all of the hard work of building a reputation and a relationship with our residents. Why should he be denied the right to continue to foster those relationships and have his business flourish in its new location, offering the same goods and services that he has steadfastly supplied for the past 15 years?

What I know about Mr. Massis is that he and his family have steadfastly delivered groceries almost every week when the weather is bad to my neighbor Roselee, who is in her 80's and housebound for the most part and whose father built my house and a few other houses on our street.
I know that during the time that 9-11 happened, Mr. Massis' nephews were spoken to very badly by newcomers to the neighborhood when they objected to one of the newer residents parking overnight in the ten minute parking spot in front of Reliable- a privilege which I believe Reliable pays for from the City to make things easier for their cusotmers, and were even threatened with being reported to the authorities by virtue of the fact that they were from Palestine, regardless of their status as citizens and truly generous members of the community here.

A few years ago, people on the hill were locked into a vicious dispute about the few remaining green spaces around Chapman and Bradford Streets.
Permits for building large structures were being requested by new owners of lots which were tiny tiny slices of green, purchased by someone's grandfather many years ago who finally died and their children or sometimes their children's children were trying to cash in on the big development boom up here. I spoke to a couple of these people. They couldn't wait to get away from Bernal after having been raised here and many of them moved out to the Peninsula. They only remembered it as a lower middle class enclave, with crack heads and bums hanging out on lower Cortland. But they were back now with big smiles on their faces, just waiting to pull in the profit, regardless of whether their decisions would effect the tone of our street, our neighborhood, our community.

I think you should make some of these facts and feelings known.
Its just disgusting. I know that I'm not alone in my sentiments.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is not whether the Massis are nice or even responsible people, it is whether Cortland needs 4 mini-mart/liquor stores in a 5-block stretch. I would encourage them to leverage the obvious good will of the neighborhood and to find support (guidance and, if necessary investors) to set up a shop that provides a unique, new service to the neighborhood. For example, a nice wine/cheese shop. They could also tastefully sell some liquor since Good Life does not.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are those of us that cherish diversity and nice people over convenience and services, it seems we will just have to go to another neighborhood. But don't worry, you can come and homogenize that one shortly.
A wine and cheese shop that sells liquor tastefully? What is the tasteful sale of liquor as opposed to the unsavory sale of liquor? This is the same attitude that says workers who have a beer on lunch are alcoholics, but a business person who has a martini on lunch is just "taking the edge off".
Is a liquor store not a liguor store if it charges too much and has a boutique look? Hmmmm.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment to JC - you may want to retract part of your letter to the Chronicle as the Lama family are not "absentee" since they still reside in the neighboorhood. Therefore, your assumed motive of greed or as you put it, "nostaliga" for the old neighborhood now that it's trendy, is flawed.
Just curious, do you know where Jad Massis and his family live? Cuz it's not in Bernal Heights.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

I know Reliable well. They are not the good neighbors that folks claim in this blog however, nor are they bad neighbors. I have seen groups of youth loitering out front, empty beer and liquor bottles littering the street, and I have seen the same kids grafitti my walls after leaving Joe's place. (I have talked to Joe regarding but he continues to allow them to loiter in front of his shop) I have seen Reliable customers parking in bus stops, pedestrian cross walks, and drive ways. Once or twice a month I see and hear altercations between drunks in front of his shop.

In addition, I have seen Joe improve his property over the years including putting out more light, no longer selling to minors, and upgrading his liquor to include more high end alcohol. Thankfully Joe has also replaced his burglar alarm so it does not ring constanly on Sunday mornings like it has in the past.

Joe is typical of all the Cortland merchants. Personally they are friendly and good people but they will not do anything to improve their premises until the neighbors make complaints. Joe has made significant improvements and it seems he has profitted from it. This is why I am pleased to see Joe stay in the neighborhood.

Now I dread a another liquor store at 249 Cortland. We already have five along Cortland. Do we need another?

In addition, the Massis family may no longer reside in Bernal but they did live here for years and they still have a presence. I see the family there alot.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous nadia lama said...

Dear Bernal Heights,

Hello. I would like to introduce myself to you all. My name is Nadia Lama. Those of you who have lived here over 15 years know me well. Those of you who have been here under 15 years please allow me to give you a little history about myself.

I turned 2 years old living in the house on top of 249 Cortland Avenue. I started working in the store at age 7. I would get paid $20.00 a week for sweeping and mopping the store. The older I got the more responsibility my father gave me. Eventually I was allowed to run the store with my older brother Moe by my side. I was 17 ( a senior in high school) when my father injured his knees and decided to lease out the store. All my siblings had their own careers and I was too young to run it myself. So my father decided to lease it out for 15 years with the condition that there would be no extension on the lease, knowing by then I would be old enough to run it. Now I am 33 years old, still living in beautiful Bernal Heights and raising my 2 daughters here. I have such fond memories of growing up in the store and have been dreaming of sharing this experience with my girls. Working in the store was not a "job" to me. I felt as if I was hanging out with family everyday. To this day, whenever I walk down Cortland, people greet me with huge smiles and after asking how my family is doing their next question always is, "When are you guys coming back? We miss you!" It's nice to know that the people I consider extended family are awaiting our return as much as we are!

I appreciate the passion all of you are showing regarding this situation but you have to remember there is a rich history that goes back over 32 years. I invite you to seek out long time residents of Bernal Heights who remember when the Lama family ran 249 Cortland Avenue and ask them to share their memories of us with you. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised at what they have to say.

Before ending this letter I would like to clear up 3 points that were stated in a previous posting as facts:

1. The license which we are "importing" into 249 Cortland Avenue is not from an existing business we own. It has been recently purchased thru a license broker. This is public information which can be obtained thru the Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

2. We are not an "absentee family". My sister and I live on Bocana Street with our families and my brother lives a block away with his family. My father just recently moved away because of his knees he required a ranch style home.

3. We are not the ones who started the opposition against Mr. Massis. If you call Carolyn Jones at the Chronicle, she will tell you that it was parents of small children who are concerned with the new location of Mr. Massis’ new store. We have nothing against Mr. Massis and wish him all the best on his new venture. Everyone, including me, should have the freedom to pursue their dreams.

Thank you for your time.
Nadia Lama

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lama family have been one of the foundations of Bernal Heights for years. Their stores (grocery, karate, flowers, etc) have all contributed to building what Bernal is today. Joe Massis has run the store well, and provided good service to the community. Why not let them both run stores on Cortland. No one's going to buy more liquor because there are 2 stores. Those of us in the neighborhood will vote with our wallets.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Problem with two more stores is that we will begin to see overcapacity. the problems that were sited in the earlier letters (ie youths loitering, blocked parking, drunken altercations) will only get worse. Plain economics will show that too much overcapacity (too many liquor stores) will result in merchants being open for longer hours to make up for lost revenue. That means more opportunity for loitering, littering, altercations, etc.

Liquor is regulated. That is why this needs to go beyond our pocketbooks and we have ABC to write to and the board of supervisors to discuss this with.

One other note is that the reality is liquor stores do attract an unsavory element (ie drug dealing, youths loitering outside, muggings, etc) and it takes committment on the part of merchants to make sure this does not happen.

Personally, I would like to see the Massis continue thier biz in the new location.

good luck Joe!! BTW, your wife is a lovely lady.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, You have a cool blog here. I'm always interested to see other people's blogs who are interested in wine or beer. I am a wine lover myself, and maintain my own wine blog
Stop by and check it out (and say hi, too)!

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why the old Reliable is closed and in such a mess?

Wasn't Joe moving out on 11/17/05? is today not 12/17/05, 30 days later?

Whats' going on, where are the Lama's in all this?

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI - the location at 249 Cortland is such a mess because, although his lease was up, Jad did not move out. As anyone who is a building owner in SF knows, it's not easy to get a tennent out of your building. If I recall you must wait at least 30 days before taking any steps to evict. The store's a mess because Jad has chosen to leave it that way and the Lama's are doing what they are legally required to do.
I wonder if Jad's new landlords are happy with the state he left 240 Cortland in?

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His new landlord is the guy who runs Four Star Video. Why don't you go over there in person and ask him?

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if you really think about it, im not sure anyone can pack up an entire grocery store and move out in one day. The store was a mess while he was moving out but if you look at it now it is perfectly empty and clean.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you can't pack up an entire store and move it out in one day. But when you know years in advance that your lease will not be renewed, when you have enough time to secure a new location, hire an attorney and apply to move your license (which, according to the ABC was in mid-August) then I'd suggest you would have enough time to vacate when your lease was up.

8:12 PM  

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